As most Celiacs know, oats are a questionable food item due to cross-contamination. But many may not know that the risk is deeper seeded than the process plant cross-contamination risk. Years ago, I was told by my doctor that steel cut oats were safe because they were less processed than the old-fashioned version, but that is not true. While I initially believed it was due to amount of processing (believing that steel cut were closer to their whole form), the oats could actually be contaminated due to the ground in which they’re grown, not just the plant where they’re processed!
Many farmers rotate their crops, growing wheat or barley one season and oats the next in the same field to keep the soil healthy and filled with a variety of good nutrients. While completely unintentional, the soil could actually still contain various kernels of wheat that would contaminate the oats.
Another risk of field cross contamination is in the time of actual harvesting. Many farmers grow a variety of crops, growing oats in a field directly adjacent to the wheat or barley field. Apart from unpredictable weather conditions that could blow wheat kernels into the oat field, when farmers harvest their crops the many machines could unintentionally blow kernels into the oat fields as well.
Lastly, trucks that transport oats to processing plants carry loads of other crops as well. This can easily lead to cross contamination among the different grains being transported – all before even getting to the processing plant!
In all, it is important to know where your food is coming from. Though there could be very minimal cross contamination, many people suffering from Celiac disease have to be incredibly cautious and can’t take the risk of even a trace amount of gluten. It is important that you consider the risks and benefits of consuming oats. If your sensitivity isn’t so pronounced, perhaps consuming oats is still a go. But if you’re the type that can’t even use topical products with gluten, reconsider allowing any oats in your gluten-free foods!